[LAU] OT: Subconscious Affecting Music

Brent Busby brent at keycorner.org
Fri Aug 27 20:11:32 UTC 2010

On Thu, 26 Aug 2010, Rob wrote:

> On Thursday 26 August 2010 08:38, Patrick Shirkey wrote:
>> How about a test instead. Listen to 10 of the latest club remixes of the
>> latest Pop music from the last 3 years and tell me if you can spot the
>> compositional technique therein? It's mostly centered around certain
>>  very similar synth and drum patterns and is complemented by the use of
>>  sexually suggestive breathy female vocal tracks/samples and aggressive
>>  dumbed down male lyrics.
> I started going out to clubs regularly in about 1990 and those elements
> were already there.  The beats have evolved over the decades but I even
> remember hearing New Order remixes from the late 80s with the suggestive,
> breathy female vocal samples... not to mention everything ever produced by
> Enigma from '91 on.
> I would argue that what you're describing goes as far back as disco, and
> it's the ascendancy of club culture in the present day that attracted your
> attention to it.  Of course they all have pretty much the same beat.  So
> did disco.  So did electronic pop in the mid-80s.  So did house music.  I
> knew someone who got really, really turned on by a remix of the throwaway
> novelty single "People Are Still Having Sex" about 20 years ago.  It had
> the same beat as everything else at the time so it was in everyone's mix
> for a couple of months, and featured the sound of a woman whispering
> "Hello, lover" repeatedly throughout the track.

I've been sitting out of this thread so far, but...some observations:

When this discussion started, the OP was pointing out the recent trend 
of pop music during the 2000's...such stuff as Britney, 50 Cent, Miley 
Cyrus, etc.  But then this all went into a critique of the fact that 
it's largely hedonistic, sexual, aggressive...

I think we hit a tangent somewhere.

As much as people like to sub-categorize, sub-sub-categorize, and 
sub-sub-sub-categorize rock music these days -- especially now that we 
have Wikipedia and other resources to help us keep track of a thousand 
or so mostly unnecessary and overlapping musical genre names -- this is 
all basically, for want of a better thing to call it, rock music.  It's 
been around now for about fifty years, and it's *always* been 
hedonistic, sexual, and aggressive, as well as (after 1965) psychedelic, 
mind-altering, and some would say rock'n'roll might even just save your 
soul.  (Others say it will damn it to hell, but whatever...)

Anyway...I think the hedonism/aggression aspect of it is nothing 
particularly new.  In fact, I don't think anyone would be very fond of 
rock music (again, using the term *very* inclusively) that had all the 
power and passion stripped right out of it.

What's really changed is *quality*.  Modern pop music leaves you 
flailing around looking for anything in it that has been done with 
excellence.  The vocals sound sterile, they've been put through the 
Autotune plugin until the singer sounds just two IC chips short of being 
a robot.  The dynamics are overcompressed to the point that some songs 
have less than 1db of dynamic range in the whole mix.  The lyrics are 
banal -- not for being hedonistic, because that same criticism would 
exclude most of the Doors discography -- but for being passionless, 
mass-manufactured, and dumb.  Not dumb in that big bad loud way that 
bands like AC/DC can get away with for having some balls and a bit of 
style.  More dumb the way graffiti written by middle-schoolers during 
their lunch period is dumb.

As for the instruments...what instruments?  "Bands" are no longer 
actually expected to play *any* instruments at any point during the 
production process.  I'm not even criticizing synthesizers or samplers 
or even computers, because I use all of those things, and so have many 
great musicians I listen to.  In the right hands, those can all be 
tools.  But today's music is made from sample loops of riffs that were 
played by someone else, drum tracks that were sampled off of a vinyl 
record from decades ago, melodies that were algorithmically put together 
by a plugin.  I'm not even saying there is necessarily anything wrong 
with music that is done entirely on a computer.  Again, in the right 
hands, there is potential for talent to shine through, even there. 
(Though that said, I'm more impressed when somebody had to play an 
instrument or two or six somewhere along the way.)  Generally though, 
the perception of "bands" these days is that they consist of a singer 
and a troop of dancers.  And the singer uses Autotune, and the lyrics 
are something you could probably generate randomly with a short Perl 
script.  There are no instruments.  Seeing an actual drummer on stage 
these days induces shock and awe.

There's something to be said though for stars in the music business 
whose only job is to look pretty.  There have always been stars like 
that, and there probably always will, male and female both.  So 
naturally, after your brain gives up looking for talent anywhere in the 
vocals, the lyrics, the instruments (such as they were), and the overall 
flavor/timbre of the recording, you next turn to the videos.

Unfortunately, the stars are not actually that cute either.  The media 
will swear up and down that they're hot enough to melt the plastic the 
media is made of, but so help me, they're not.  Actually they remind me 
of something that was once said of Prince:  "He makes you want to think 
about sex...with somebody else."  That pretty much sums up videos by 
pretty much all the mainstream acts now.  Lots of sex.  But can we 
please make it not be sex with THEM?

So you're basically looking for anything in the music, or the lyrics, or 
the videos, or any aspect of the whole audio/visual product that has 
been done with any kind of excellence in any context whatsoever, even if 
you have to leave the musical appreciation aspect of it and go to their 
video product's appeal alone, and you simply flail looking for anything 
that was done well.  Comparing this to the technopop and other very 
commercialized music of previous eras, back when even that type of music 
still required playing of instruments (ANY instruments!), singing 
talent, recording engineers that could make a sweet mix (and were 
allowed to by their label management), and if nothing else and all else 
failed, cute stars, is like comparing a gourmet meal to...Cheez Wiz. 
At least the commercial pop of previous eras -- sometimes deliberately, 
and sometimes by accident -- managed to sometimes be surprisingly 
profound, either directly, or indirectly through unintentional artifacts 
of kitsch-coolness.  After about 1995 or so, we have apparently 
"perfected" the pop production process to the point where we no longer 
have to worry that anyone will be either intentionally or 
unintentionally impressive in any way.  We're now 100% brilliance-proof, 
no brilliance can touch us.

Quality (or lack thereof)...not hedonism.  Rock music is supposed to be 
about hedonism, and rebellion, and aggression, and sex, and all that 
other stuff that makes parents want to go into the back yard and hurl. 
What good is it if it isn't?  Despite our new obsession with making new 
absurd subgenre names and trying to convince everyone they're each a 
different style of music, it's all really supposed to be just rock 
music.  We've forgotten how to do it well.

I will admit there seems to have been this war going on for as long as 
rock music has been around between the intellectualist hedonists (60's 
"rock poet" type psychedelic artists, 80's new-wave/synthpop philosopher 
types, etc.) and the anti-intellectualist hedonists (70's colliseum 
rockers, 80's metalheads/burnouts, 90's grungers, etc.).  But they're 
all hedonists.  They all like some combination of sex, drugs, passion, 
aggression, and rebellion (or all of the above).  The only difference 
is, some of them think those are things you're supposed to do while 
you're educated, and the others think that's something you're supposed 
to do while you're a glorified retard.  They're all hedonists though.

> On the other hand, 10 years before that, when I was still in elementary
> school, I had a girlfriend whose dad had a tape of disco stuff that all
> sounded like "More More More" by Andrea True Connection, but with fewer
> lyrics and more moaning.  He was embarrassed when we made fun of it,
> leading me to suspect he was into it for not-purely-musical reasons.

Probably.  What would be the problem with that?

> clubs have even heard of it, and has been for decades.  Timbaland may have
> added his own spin to it, but so did Giorgio Moroder (who may have invented
> the model), Stock/Aitken/Waterman, and so on through the years.  In another
> couple years someone will come up with an even 'sexier' beat and bassline
> and even breathier female vocal talent, and someone else will be wishing he
> could use the same technique for, er, 'good'.

Oh come on...  Even the Bible had its Song of Solomon.  I don't think 
that if you were able to reform rock music to an intellectual pinnacle 
never seen before that it would mean getting rid of the sex.

I think one of the earlier posters nailed it -- music has drifted in 
this direction of being sexy and aggressive because people like to feel 
that way.  Why fight it?

Now if we could only get them to do quality art while they're doing 

> I can't speak to the aggressive hip-hop stuff, because I generally leave if
> too much of that stuff gets played.

There was a time when rap was actually interesting for a 
producer/musician like me to listen to, but not because of the actual 
rapping.  Once, people would do the most insane things with effects 
boxes, TR-808 drum machines, little mixers, SH-101's, JX3P's...things 
that even new wave and synthpop would have been too "refined" to do on 
even the most experimental albums.  You could listen to it, and it 
helped you break away from notions of what is "too much" in electronic 
music, as far as sequencing and drum machine programming went.  And that 
made you want to try something that was "too much" in your own music. 
(I will admit though, even in those days, I found the actual rap vocals 
fairly boring.)

These days, it's drag-and-drop on a Mac, and there is very little 
experimenting with MIDI and actual instruments going on.  Sample loops 
taken from albums of someone else's, a little bit of time on a computer, 
and some guy who sounds dumb and dangerous droning on monotonously about 
how the pigs almost got him and he keeps his bitches in line.

You know, after decades of parents crying that this "new music is going 
to make kids want to kill themselves," I think we may have finally found 
something so mediocre it might really just make somebody want to do 
that just to escape.

> To sum up, I think the best way to positively affect people's lives 
> through music isn't to try to come up with some scientific formula for 
> imparting intelligence, tolerance, etc. subliminally through beats, 
> but through writing songs embodying the qualities you wish to impart. 
> Make them close enough in sound to everything else that they slip 
> underneath the radar while also being catchy and novel enough so that 
> everyone (well, everyone who plays non-major-label stuff) plays them.

Probably the intelligence part is enough.  Most of the intelligent rock 
artists that have emerged since the 60's have proven that, without even 
trying to ever divert the listener toward less depressing / base / 
hedonistic subjects, if you can just get people *thinking* as a matter 
of habit (rather than having it be such a seldom occurence for them that 
doing that makes their brains hurt), you can make the audience and the 
whole world a better place.  Most thinking people are able to deal with 
the depressing subjects, the sex, the adult subjects.  What we can't 
deal with is all this mental retardation on the radio.

And don't even get me into what Judy McGrath has done to MTV (and music 
in general) ever since Viacom bought out the network and put her in 

+ Brent A. Busby	 + "We've all heard that a million monkeys
+ UNIX Systems Admin	 +  banging on a million typewriters will
+ University of Chicago	 +  eventually reproduce the entire works of
+ Physical Sciences Div. +  Shakespeare.  Now, thanks to the Internet,
+ James Franck Institute +  we know this is not true." -Robert Wilensky

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